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Rare fungus to be moved from Scotland to England in hopes to save species
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Rare fungus to be moved from Scotland to England in hopes to save species

Fingers of a critically endangered fungus will this week be removed from its last sites in Scotland and fixed to trees in three woodlands in England to save it from extinction.

Willow gloves, which resembles the fingers of washing-up gloves and grows on dead trees, is found only in two woodlands, and the vast majority is living on just one fallen tree.

Mycologists will carefully remove sections of dead wood, as well as some fruiting bodies of the fungus in the Scottish Borders, and hurry them to Cumbria in a single day, where they will be tied to trees in three receptor sites.

The pioneering translocation is uniquely complicated because willow gloves is a parasite, and lives off the tiny aerial filaments of another fungus, willow glue, which mostly resides inside decaying willow wood.

Matt Wainhouse, fungi and lichen senior specialist for Natural England, said: “We have a responsibility to all species in this country to ensure they have a future and fungi are no different. This is a species that is hanging on by a thread.

“This is a really exciting chance for us to start learning about how we can bring this species back and … out of its threatened status.”

Willow gloves on a branchView image in fullscreen

The three receptor sites are all protected sites of special scientific interest, and Cumbria was where the fungus was last recorded before its extinction in England about 50 years ago. The woods, including Finglandrigg Wood national nature reserve, have been chosen because they have plentiful supplies of decaying wet willow wood and its willow glue host.

Moving willow gloves to more sites – without endangering the remaining population at its Scottish strongholds – will greatly increase the resilience of a species that could easily be wiped out at a single location by a tree disease or the accidental removal of deadwood.

It is not yet known how to maximise the chances of the translocated willow gloves fungus successfully latching on to the hyphae of the willow glue but the Natural England project, funded by the government’s species recovery programme, will test different methods.

These include removing whole twigs containing willow gloves and willow glue, according to Chris Knowles, the mycologist who is leading the operation.

The other main techniques to be tested are taking whole specimens of willow gloves and fixing them to new deadwood locations with plant-grafting tape, and also moving the fingertip fragments of old fruiting bodies of willow gloves.

Knowles said: “A lot of people ask, why put all this effort, time and money into rescuing it? It seems to be the right thing to do to conserve and protect it, just as we would if it was a mole or a pine marten.

“It’s a stunning, almost unique-looking fungus with an incredibly niche lifestyle. It is so interesting, exciting and not fully understood yet that it would be a terrible thing to lose.”

According to Wainhouse, it has traditionally been difficult to persuade conservationists – let alone the general public – to care about endangered fungi, particularly species that live off dead wood because they are seen as “diseases” or threats to tree species. But he said those attitudes were changing.

The translocation and the relative success of different techniques will be monitored by volunteers from Cumbria Fungi Group for at least five years.

Source: theguardian.com